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BC beats BU, extends unbeaten streak to 8 games

01.16.15 at 11:28 pm ET
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No. 17 Boston College remained undefeated since the start of December, beating No. 2 Boston University 4-2 at Agganis Arena Friday night to improve to 6-0-2 in its last eight games. Freshman forward Alex Tuch registered two goals and an assist, while classmate Noah Hanifin had a goal and an assist. The Eagles improved to 13-7-2 on the season and 6-4-2 in Hockey East, breaking a fourth-place tie with Providence in the process. The Terriers fell to 12-4-4 overall and 7-2-2 in Hockey East and dropped out of a first-place tie with UMass-Lowell.

Here are some observations from the game:

Penalties kill BU
BU gave BC two extended 5-on-3s, and the Eagles scored on both of them. The first came during a rough-and-tumble start to the game that saw the teams combine for 11 penalties in 10 minutes. In the middle of all that, Danny O’€™Regan and A.J. Greer took penalties 29 seconds apart and Hanifin ripped a slap shot past Matt O’€™Connor for the 5-on-3 goal.

Penalty trouble struck again midway through the second when Matt Grzelcyk and Robbie Baillargeon went to the box just 10 seconds apart. Once again the Eagles capitalized, with Ryan Fitzgerald feeding an open Tuch in the slot. Penalties haven’€™t been a huge problem for the Terriers most of the season, but they have now surrendered 14 power plays in their last two games. That will obviously be something to watch moving forward, especially since their next game on Sunday is against first-place Lowell, owner of the best power play in Hockey East.

BU’€™s freshmen finally look like freshmen
Arguably the biggest reason for the Terriers’€™ success this season has been the play of their freshmen. Jack Eichel has been even better than most people expected, and the team’€™s four freshman defensemen have been a strength from the get-go, with very few hiccups along the way. On Friday night, there were some hiccups. BU coach David Quinn said after the game that he thought it was the first game where his freshman D really looked like freshman D, and he pointed to gap control as one of the team’€™s biggest problems in the game. That was evident throughout, as BC had way too many easy transitions through the neutral zone and easy entries into the BU end. That passiveness led to chances on the rush for BC as well as easy offensive-zone setups. No one should be panicking about the freshman defensemen because we’€™ve seen all year what they’€™re capable of, but Friday night should provide a good teaching moment about what happens when they sit back too much.

Eichel also didn’€™t play one of his best games. While his line still had the puck a lot (according to Ryan Lambert of College Hockey News and Yahoo Sports, BU had a 64-percent Corsi with Eichel on the ice and 43.1-percent with him off the ice), they weren’€™t able to generate enough quality scoring chances. BC deserves a lot of credit for keeping them mostly on the perimeter, but Eichel and friends should be able to get to the net more against pretty much anyone. On top of that, Eichel had a miscommunication with a defenseman on a 4-on-4 that led to a BC goal and turned the puck over twice during a 6-on-5 at the end of the game while BU was looking for the tying goal. Eichel did still have an assist in the game and he’€™s still the best player in the country, but Friday night might get left off the highlight reel.

BC has depth, BU still has a question mark
As you might be able to tell by that 43.1-percent Corsi without Eichel on the ice, BC won the depth battle, at least in terms of possession. BU’€™s third line did score a goal on a nice play by Matt Lane and BC’€™s bottom two lines did not have a goal, but BC’€™s bottom six forwards outshot BU’€™s bottom six 8-4 in the game. The Eagles don’€™t have a line like Eichel’€™s (or like their own top line last year), and the two teams’€™ second lines are pretty even (especially if Baillargeon, who missed nine games with mono, can get back to how he played last year for BU), but BC has 47 points from its bottom six this season compared to 31 for BU. The Terriers still have the better offense on the season (3.40 goals per game vs. 3.09 for BC), but Friday showed how they might struggle against teams with good depth if the Eichel line doesn’€™t take over (which, by the way, they’€™re completely capable of doing). Sunday’€™s game against Lowell will provide another good depth test for BU.

BC can still make some noise
BC coach Jerry York said after the game that his team can still be “a pretty good club” this season, and he’s absolutely right. As we mentioned earlier, the Eagles are now 6-0-2 since the start of December and they’€™re looking like the team most of us expected them to be before the season. Defense and goaltending are finally looking like strengths, as the team has cut down on mistakes in its own end and Thatcher Demko has looked like the high-end goalie we know he can be rather than the mediocre one who was battling the flu and hip issues the first two months. BC is also finding enough scoring to win consistently, even if it doesn’€™t have that go-to, dominant first line.

The Eagles have scored three or more goals six times during this eight-game unbeaten streak and are now up to third in the league in scoring. They’€™ve allowed two or fewer in all eight games and Demko has a .955 save percentage over his last seven starts. It’€™s never really a good idea to write off a York-coached team, and this year’€™s BC squad could be in the midst of showing us why.

Steve Addazio promises to make Boston College better in close games

12.27.14 at 10:36 pm ET
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NEW YORK — If there’s one takeaway from Saturday night at Yankee Stadium for Boston College head coach Steve Addazio, it’s that he must find a way this offseason to make the Eagles better in closing out games within their grasp.

Sure, people will point to the obvious woes of the kicking game, and give Addazio credit for acknowledging that fundamental flaw that haunted his team all season.

But the greater point in Addazio’s mind is instilling a mindset that would have prevented Saturday’s 31-30 overtime loss to Penn State at Yankee Stadium in the Pinstripe Bowl.

Boston College led 21-7 with just over two minutes left in the third quarter, after Tyler Murphy’s 40-yard run to paydirt. But the Eagles stalled for the next 10 minutes and were outscored 17-3 in the final 17 minutes.

“What I said to the team in there, really my take away was we have a tough team, a team that battles, a great foundation here in our program,” Addazio said. “We have to learn how to finish and close out these games. We’ve had more than our share of them this season which we’ve lost on last drive, last play. That’s the next step that our program has to take.

We’ve got to develop and mature and make those last plays that would create different outcomes right now. We probably have been in that situation at least three to four times this season with heartbreaking results. I guess you could say that shows the development of where we are in our program, but it’s frustrating. As far as my takeaway on this as the head coach, we’ve got to go get that done.”

Addazio watched his team blow huge chances all season to come away with character building wins, chances against Colorado State, Clemson and Florida State come to mind, and all of that before Penn State Saturday night. They led Colorado State 21-14 and lost 24-21. They were ahead at home against Clemson 13-10 and lost 17-13, another game that had Mike Knoll missing an extra point. They were tied with Florida State 17-17 and lost 20-17 on a last-second field goal.

They did beat Southern Cal but still, listening to Addazio there’s a sense this team could’ve been a 10-win team.

“I think in that locker room right now no one is really interested in zip a dee doo dah, we played in overtime,” Addazio said. “We made a lot of strides. We’re heading in a great direction. But we just lost a game we didn’t need to lose, but we did.

“It was a great effort, tremendous effort. Must have been a hell of a game to watch, two teams slugging each other. You can’t be ashamed or embarrassed by that. But in the end you play to win, and we lost.

“This program is not built on close games, it’s built on winning games. Our whole emphasis the off season will be learning how to close out the games. How will we do that? We’ll do it through great development, through development of fundamentals, mental toughness. We’ll do it through recruiting. We’ll get there. We’ll get to where we want to be. That will happen.”

Read More: Boston College, Penn State, Pinstripe Bowl, Steve Addazio

Heartbreaker: Penn State beats Boston College in overtime in Pinstripe Bowl

12.27.14 at 8:27 pm ET
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Boston College WR Shakim Phillips hauls in a 19-yard TD pass in third quarter. (Alex Goodlett/Getty Images)

Boston College WR Shakim Phillips hauls in a 19-yard TD pass in third quarter. (Alex Goodlett/Getty Images)

NEW YORK — Another postseason trip to New York. Another bizarre heartbreaker for a Boston team.

Sam Ficken’s extra point following a touchdown pass from Christian Hackenberg to Kyle Carter was the difference Saturday night as Penn State beat Boston College, 31-30, in overtime in the New Era Pinstripe Bowl at Yankee Stadium.

For most of the game, Boston College met Penn State‘s immovable run defense with the irresistible force of Jon Hilliman and Tyler Murphy. The first bowl win in the Steve Addazio era was ready to be had.

Facing the top-ranked run defense in the country, the Eagles amassed 289 yards on 46 carries, including touchdown runs of 49 yards from Jon Hilliman and 40 yards from Murphy.

Hilliman finished with 148 yards on 25 carries while Murphy added 105 yards on 11 carries.

Murphy connected with David Dudeck on a 21-yard in-cut route for the go-ahead score in overtime but Mike Knoll pulled the extra point wide right, giving Penn State a chance to win with a touchdown and extra point.

“Yep, we’ve had a lot of difficulties through the year on extra points and field goals,” Addazio said. “We didn’t really do a great job kicking the ball off today, either, to be honest with you. We started with those issues and we ended with those issues. It’s my job to get it fixed and that’s what I’m going to do.”

Knoll was the latest in a succession of Boston College kickers who struggled throughout the season. That list included Joey Launceford, Jake Wilhelm and Alex Howell.

“I [didn’t] talk to Mike Knoll. I talked to my team after the game. That’s the most important thing right now. I’ll get a chance to talk to everybody.”

A Pinstripe Bowl sellout crowd of 49.012 watched the two former Eastern independents do battle in an entertaining game in the Bronx. The loss drops the BC bowl record of head coach Steve Addazio to 0-2. BC lost the 2013 AvoCare Bowl to Arizona, 42-19.

Penn State came out throwing the ball behind sophomore quarterback Christian Hackenberg. He led to the Nittany Lions into Eagles territory but BC eventually forced a punt.

Penn State drove to the BC 37 on the next drive but again BC held and forced a punt.

On its third drive, after targeting the Boston College secondary in the first two drives, Hackenberg finally hit on the big play. Hackenberg watched Chris Godwin beat Manuel Asprilla on an up and out route and he connected with Godwin for 72 yards down the right sideline for the game’s first score. Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: Boston College, Jon Hilliman, New Era Pinstripe Bowl, Penn State

Thinking out loud: Kris Dunn a rising star for Providence

12.26.14 at 1:27 pm ET
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RookeThinking out loud … while wondering how and why PC ’71’s Jim Larranaga ended up as head coach at the University of Miami.

— Top-10 lists … big five moments … three best stories of the year? You’ll see some of these things over the next few days as we flip the calendar to 2015. Undoubtedly, you’ve got your own top moments from the year. I’ll share three of 2014’s significant local sports moments with you, as I saw them.

— A season is full of several small challenges, and another of those was passed somewhat successfully last week when the Friars knocked off UMass and Miami in a three-day period. Now the next challenge is here — nine days off between games, and the next one with Creighton in the Big East opener Wednesday night.

— Players play. So having multiple games over a short period of time has never been a big deal with me, especially when it comes to 19-, 20- and 21-year-old basketball players. They’d much rather play a game than practice, don’cha know? The hard part is getting back into a groove, getting back into sync with each other after time away. The challenge will be to pick back up where you left off before the Christmas holiday.

— Kris Dunn has been, in a word, spectacular. Last two games against UMass and Miami: 15.5 points, 12 assists, five rebounds, four steals per game. Miami’s highly-touted Angel Rodriguez, a transfer from Kansas State, had no clue how to slow down Dunn down, and I suspect other guards soon to face the New London, Connecticut, product will face the same problems. He’s big, quick, wiry and strong. He’s developing his mid-range jumper, too — which will make him almost impossible to defend consistently well.

— What Kris still needs, however, is a little help from a teammate not named LaDontae. Henton is as consistent as they come, and Fox Sports 1’s Bill Raftery mentioned it — he is a legit candidate for Big East Player of the Year. But for the Friars to make noise in the conference race, Dunn has to see to it that Jalen Lindsey becomes a consistent threat to score, that Ben Bentil learns to let the game come to him and not rush his shots, and that Tyler Harris continues to play aggressively in his role coming off of the bench.

— Now you can start following the college hoop RPI, once the completion of non-league play has pretty much settled itself across the country. As of Christmas Day, Providence was 29, URI 52, Bryant 158 and Brown 238 out of 351 Division 1 teams. And the Bears very well could be Rhode Island’s state champ this year? Go figure.

— Not for nuthin’, here are other familiar teams and names for RPI comparison: Yale 57, UMass 65, UConn (defending national champion) 71, Miami 79, Syracuse 83, Northeastern 100, Notre Dame 102, Holy Cross 126, Creighton 128, Boston College 165, Florida State 183, NJIT 199. Forget the AP and USA Today polls — although they’re still fun to look at — but the RPI can and will tell you who’s dancing in March.

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Thinking out loud: Break comes at right time for Providence basketball

12.19.14 at 10:50 am ET
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RookeThinking out loud … while wondering whatever happened to Thurl Ravenscroft.

— The week off for semester exams came at a great time for the Providence College Friars, after working their way through a second tough stretch of games in a short timespan last week (three games in six days). Without the real ability to teach, instruct and correct during that time, young teams and players have a harder time grasping what the coaches need them to do to be successful. That has shown itself to be true lately for some talented but still painfully young athletes.

— One of the youngsters beginning to “get it” is guard Kyron Cartwright. The freshman from Compton, California, is playing with great confidence, and as a result his shots are beginning to fall. Coming off of the bench may suit him, in order to provide speed — and a spark — to PC’s offense. His first career double-double of 10 points and 10 assists against Stony Brook was a veteran-savvy performance.

— At the other end of the spectrum, with the height and length on this team it should be WAY better at rebounding the ball. Carson Desrosiers is great at tipping it out, but I’d like to see him actually snatch a few for himself. And where is LaDontae Henton? Tyler Harris? Fellas, you should own the boards. Make it happen. And while you’re at it, put a little arc on those free throws, they’ll start popping in with regularity like they did a year ago.

— You’re a mean one, Mister Grinch: Former Friars assistant coach Mike Malone had a rough week. After toiling in the ranks of NBA assistants from 2001-13, Malone broke through the barrier and was hired by the Sacramento Kings as their head coach in June of 2013 — just after being named the top assistant in the league by NBA general managers. And after exceeding expectations in getting out to a 5-1 start this year, the Kings promptly lost 12 of their next 18. Now Malone is out, and former Utah coach Tyrone Corbin (one of Malone’s assistants) is in. Such is the life, huh?

— Malone assisted under Pete Gillen on the Providence staff from 1995-98, including the Sweet 16 season in ’97, and moved to the University of Virginia with Gillen as director of basketball operations in ’98. His father, Brendan Malone, was an assistant at URI and later an NBA head coach in Toronto and Cleveland. Mike actually hired his dad to be an assistant on his staff in Sacramento, but father apparently knew best and left his son’s staff without ever coaching a game with him. Brendan Malone is currently on Stan Van Gundy‘s staff in Detroit.

— Don’t be surprised if URI decides to keep a scholarship available for a “big” potential transfer — someone who might be able to come in and play as early as next December. The Rams need to increase their size, especially with Gil Biruta’s graduation, and clearly are missing a true post presence. Additionally, a name to watch for is Christion Thompson out of Louisiana, at Madison Prep. He’s a 6-foot-4 guard/forward with qualities not dissimilar to those of recent Rhody grad Xavier Munford.

— Well-deserved plaudits for Brown’s Cedric Kuakumensah, who was named Ivy League Player of the Week for his performance against Providence. Kuakumensah had 15 points, seven rebounds and two blocks, and he hit two huge 3-pointers that helped his Bears pull off a win over the Friars for the second time in three years. He’s a game-changer, and the Ivy has some outstanding talent this season with Harvard’s Wesley Saunders and Yale’s Justin Sears also grabbing headlines.

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Boston College extends Steve Addazio through 2020

12.18.14 at 3:52 pm ET
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Steve Addazio

Steve Addazio

Boston College has extended the contract of head football coach Steve Addazio through 2020, the school announced Thursday. The Eagles have gone 14-11 in Addazio’s first two seasons at the helm after going 2-10 the season before he arrived.

Addazio’s name recently surfaced in connection with both the Florida and Michigan coaching searches.

“In just two years, Steve Addazio has done an amazing job with our football program,” said BC athletic director Brad Bates. “To lead a team to 14 wins and two consecutive bowl games during what was supposed to be a rebuilding process is a great accomplishment.

“Beyond winning, he has worked tirelessly to recruit top-notch student-athletes and develop lasting relationships with former players and the entire University community. He is one of the best motivators I’ve ever been around, and his enthusiasm is infectious. We are very fortunate to have him as our coach.”

Addazio and the Eagles take on Penn State in the New Era Pinstripe Bowl at Yankee Stadium on Dec. 27.

“I appreciate Fr. Leahy’s and Brad Bates’ support for our program and their confidence in me,” Addazio said. “I am also grateful to our student-athletes and our staff for their dedication and hard work. Boston College is a great, Jesuit Catholic education in a world-class city that competes in big-time college football and I am honored and humbled to be in this position. We have a lot more work to do, but I believe we are building the foundation for a great football program.”

Thinking out loud: NJIT stunning Michigan biggest upset in season of upsets

12.12.14 at 1:31 pm ET
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RookeThinking out loud … while wondering whatever happened to Tim Higgins.

— Lost in the headlines over the past week was this nugget: NJIT beats Michigan. That’s the New Jersey Institute of Technology, the only independent team in all of Division 1 college basketball, out of 350 schools fielding teams. NJIT went into the Dunk a little more than two years ago and almost stunned Providence College, and managed to pull off one of the more shocking results in recent memory by beating a nationally ranked Wolverine team in Ann Arbor in the school’s first-ever game against a ranked team.

Did Michigan take the Highlanders seriously? No way, especially with a six-figure guarantee paycheck accompanying NJIT back to Newark. Not with a team playing for the national title two years ago facing a team whose home court doubles as the campus fitness center and jogging track. But it does show you can never, ever, count anyone or any team out — and therein lies the true beauty and fun of college basketball. Yale beats UConn. Butler beats North Carolina. DePaul beats Stanford. URI beats Nebraska. Brown beats Providence. And Eastern Michigan beat Michigan again, after NJIT’s upset. But it’s not so much fun for the coaches.

— Jim Engles, the NJIT coach, told the media after his team had won the game that going into the season he had ‘sort of penciled this in as an L.’ Whoa. At least he’s honest.

— Strike a big blow for the Old/New Big East against the traitorous defectors for the ACC, as St. John’s broke a 15-year drought at the Carrier Dome by beating Syracuse last weekend. That came after PC, however, lost to the first Old Big East team to take a hike, Boston College.

— The Providence Journal’s Kevin McNamara had a great piece on the Rhode Island D1 teams and the possibility of facing off against each other in a one- or two-day event at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center. Three words: Not. Gonna. Happen. The coaches don’t see it happening, either. Like any fan, I’d love to see this come to fruition. But the true reason the teams will never get together in this fashion has to do with the world and reality in which each team presently exists. Providence and URI need out-of-conference games against teams with strong RPI ratings and strength of schedule for postseason at-large consideration — something Brown and Bryant, by virtue of where they play in D1’s netherworld of low- to mid-majors, can’t possibly provide on an annual basis. And when the Bears and Bulldogs are competitive, you’ll see things like what happened to Michigan (see above) and to PC two years ago at Brown.

— Philadelphia long has had the tradition of the Big Five, since 1955, where the city schools annually play each other. Developing that kind of tradition has to start somewhere, doesn’t it? That said, while the Friars and Bulldogs aren’t playing this year, both sides expect to face each other next season. Providence also will continue to play Brown (a city rivalry) and Rhode Island (a natural, often-heated rivalry). Brown plays Bryant, Rhody and PC, but URI has never faced Bryant in a regular-season game. Time to step up, State U., for the good of the game in the state.  Tough to play the “disrespect” card — which you do — when the other teams are all playing each other, don’t you think?

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Hockey East first half power rankings: 3 clear tiers

12.08.14 at 8:38 pm ET
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There are no more Hockey East conference games before winter break (several teams still have a non-conference game or two to go), so now seems like a good time to do some power rankings and see where everyone stands as the first half of the season comes to a close. As things stand right now, there are three pretty clear tiers in the conference, with three teams gaining some separation at the top, four teams in the middle trying to fight their way into that group, and five teams making a mess of things at the bottom.

TOP TIER
1. Boston University (10-3-2, 7-1-2 HEA)
After losing two of three non-conference games during Thanksgiving week, the Terriers bounced back by taking three of four points from Merrimack. BU’€™s top line, which had been held off the scoresheet in the previous two games, went off in Saturday’€™s 4-2 win, as Danny O’€™Regan had three goals and an assist and Jack Eichel had four assists. The Terriers are a very good team — probably even better than expected so far thanks to Eichel being the best player in the country and their four freshman defensemen being impact players from the start — and they can go pretty far without changing much, but they could be even better if they start to get some more depth scoring to help with those rare games when the Eichel line doesn’€™t score. The returns of Robbie Baillargeon and Nikolas Olsson over the next month or so should help, but until then, the Eichel line will be enough to win a lot of games. BU leads Hockey East with 33.93 shots on goal per game and Matt O’€™Connor is second in the league with a .938 save percentage.

2. UMass-Lowell (10-3-3, 7-0-2 HEA)
The River Hawks’€™ recent non-conference results haven’€™t been great (split with Penn State, loss to Harvard), but they continue to roll in Hockey East play, most recently beating UConn 6-4 on Wednesday and Maine 3-2 in overtime on Saturday. The River Hawks don’€™t have anyone averaging a point per game, but they still lead the league in scoring thanks to 13 players averaging half a point per game or more, more than anyone else in the conference. Their team shooting percentage has come down to 13.5 percent, but that still leads the country and is still probably unsustainable. The good news is that they’€™re getting more shots on goal — 33 or more in four of their last five games — which should help limit the effects of regression. Lowell continues to get just average goaltending (Kevin Boyle has a .914 save percentage, while Jeff Smith is at .901), which isn’€™t ideal for a team that expects to compete for titles.

3. Vermont (11-3-1, 7-3-1 HEA)
The Catamounts continue to be a really solid all-around team. They’€™re second in Hockey East in scoring, first in team defense, tied for first in power play, first in penalty kill, third in shots on goal and first in shots on goal against. They’€™re getting good goaltending from Brody Hoffman (.924 save percentage in 10 appearances) and Mike Santaguida (.953 in six). Like Lowell, Vermont is scoring with depth. Mario Puskarich and Mike Paliotta are averaging a point per game, with Paliotta leading all Hockey East defensemen in the category, and nine others are averaging half a point per game. The Catamounts have won four in a row and they haven’€™t allowed more than three goals in a game all season. All that said, they’€™re looking up at Lowell and BU in the standings. They’€™re just one point behind those two, but they’€™ve played one more conference game than BU and two more than Lowell. Read the rest of this entry »

BC coach Steve Addazio: ‘I couldn’t be more happy’ about playing Penn State in Pinstripe Bowl

12.08.14 at 8:31 am ET
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Boston College is headed to New York for one final game.

The Eagles (7-5) will face Penn State in the New Era Pinstripe Bowl at Yankee Stadium on Dec. 27 to close out the season. This will be the second consecutive bowl game for BC under coach Steve Addazio.

The coach said his team is more than revved up for the New York city atmosphere that the Yankee Stadium location will provide.

“Ninety percent of our team is New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Ohio. They all understand the Penn State-BC thing,” Addazio said after of the game. “Where’€™s better to be at Christmas than New York City? It’€™s got it all. Our alums, our fans will be there to support the game, it’€™ll be a sold-out crowd. I’€™m just excited. I couldn’t be more happy about this matchup, this bowl game, and we’€™re honored.”

The rivalry between the two teams has been dormant in recent years, as the schools have not played since 2004. The Nittany Lions have dominated the all-time series with a 19-4 record, but the Eagles have won the last three matchups.

“Everyone was really excited,” said senior linebacker Sean Duggan. “The team room kind of went nuts when Coach Addazio came in and told us. We are just really excited to play a team with such a storied history. It’€™s a team that growing up, you know all about.”

This game will feature the return of Penn State to postseason competition after a two-year absence. The NCAA banned the school from bowl games for four years in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky sexual abuse scandal, but lifted that sanction earlier this season.

Senior graduate quarterback Tyler Murphy, who led the Eagles with 1,079 rushing yards this season, said playing against such a storied program puts more meaning on this bowl game.

“You have two teams that have had a lot of success in the Northeast,” Murphy said. “It’€™s two programs that are really trying to turn the tide. A bowl victory would be big, so there is a lot at stake.”

Read More: Sean Duggan, Steve Addazio, Tyler Murphy,

Thinking out loud: Productive fall at Providence continues

12.05.14 at 1:51 pm ET
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RookeThinking out loud … while wondering whatever happened to Rod Serling and the Twilight Zone. ‘Cuz I feel as if I’ve been in it.

— The good times in Friartown keep rolling. Men’s basketball, hockey and cross-country are (or have been) nationally ranked this year, and the soccer team is in the NCAA tournament quarterfinal round this weekend, playing at Michigan State — the team’s best run ever in the NCAAs. And PC alum, board of trustees member and former soccer player Karl Anderson (Class of ’88, along with his wife, Kerry) has announced a commitment of $1.5 million to begin construction of a new soccer and lacrosse stadium on campus. The Friars are learning, “If you build it, success will come.”

— Getting the chance to call Providence and No. 1 Kentucky from inside the hallowed halls of Rupp Arena in Lexington, Kentucky, last weekend was a bit, well, anticlimactic. In the 20 years since I had the opportunity to be there previously (during PC’s 1994 NCAA tourney appearance), the building hasn’t changed much at all. But there are those banners hanging in the rafters, signifying the Wildcats’ place in the history of the sport. And the crowd of 24K sang “Happy Birthday” to legendary coach Joe B. Hall, as much beloved by the Wildcats faithful as Adolph Rupp himself. He sat right behind our broadcast position at courtside. Wonder what he thought of Joe Hassett’s referee rants?

— Had the chance to visit with former Friars assistant coach Fran Fraschilla, who of course has gone on to a great TV career with ESPN. He’s on the Ed Cooley love boat and loves the defensive intensity the Friars are bringing to the floor. And intensity is something, you might recall, Fraschilla brought to his own teams while at Manhattan and St. John’s — and something else, you might recall, that ended up costing him his job at SJU.

— Willie Cauley-Stein is a freak. I mean that in a good way, of course. But Kentucky’s 7-foot junior big man can run equally with and defend smartly against much smaller players, and he bottled up LaDontae Henton like no one else has before — or may ever again. If I’m in Philly, I’m thinking he might look good in a Sixers uniform — alongside of, or in place of, another former Cat in Nerlens Noel.

— And 6-11 freshman center Karl Anthony Towns? Two words: “Go pro.”

— My buddy Statbeast sez he’s getting into archaeology. It’s the best possible husband a woman can have — the older she gets, the more interested he is in her.

— The early returns on the Big East against out-of-conference opponents have been impressive. Other than Kentucky’s obvious glut of two-platoon talent and ability, the Big East has been THE story in college basketball to this point in the season. But don’t think for a minute the league can rest on whatever pre-conference laurels it can gather.  This is all about the postseason, which is something associate commissioner for men’s basketball Stu Jackson told us in September. Scheduling the tougher teams is one thing — you’ve also got to win your fair share, and then win in March. So far, the formula is working according to plan.

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